Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sunstone Knoll and Clear Lake, near Delta, Utah

This last weekend we decided to have a volcanic theme and visit several volcanic areas. First up was Sunstone Knoll, about 13 miles south on Highway 257 from Delta (near mile marker 56). A BLM sign helpfully points out the turnoff. Right after the turnoff you cross the railroad tracks, and we noticed a train was coming. The kids were delighted.

After watching the train go by, we parked next to several other vehicles. An extended family was out for a morning of fun. Sunstones are a slightly yellow, nearly transparent semi-precious gem. They were extruded from volcanic vents and are found with the basaltic lava and volcanic breccia. If the sun is shining, it is easy to find these labradorite crystals, as they sparkle in the sunlight. They are generally quite small, but they can be abundant and it is like a treasure hunt to find them.

We were also on another treasure hunt: to find the geocache at Sunstone Knoll. We had success, and the kids are getting better about really watching their surroundings.

I got distracted by this pretty hemiptera, a true bug. I liked the reddish markings.

Of course, Desert Girl was hiking in style. I made her wear her new hiking boots and pants, but she figured out a way to liven up her outfit.

We were all entranced by a horned lizard.

The kids followed it to a bush and then decided they had to catch it. I wasn't so sure they could...

…but they did!

After Desert Boy's inspection (he now wants to be a zookeeper when he grows up, but he doesn't want to clean the animal pens), it was time for the handoff.

Desert Girl was happy to hold the lizard. She later caught one all on her own.

Then it was time to leave Sunstone Knoll and its interesting geology and head to nearby Clear Lake Waterfowl Management Area (go 1.5 mile further south on Highway 257, then 6 miles east on the signed road). This area consists of 6,190 acres of open water, wetlands, and uplands. It was purchased in the 1930s primarily to provide bird habitat. In February and March, it hosts thousands of snow geese. During spring and fall, it is an important migratory stop. Clear Lake is pretty primitive, with no facilities.
 The first sign we saw was next to a dried out area, so it didn't look too promising. Fortunately down the road we found some water.

We did see our next destination, Pahvant Butte, the prominent volcano south of Delta. Our big plan for the day was to hike it, so we didn't spend much time at Clear Lake.

But there is a geocache hidden at Clear Lake, so we went in search of it and found some additional wet areas.

On the way, we found this awesome truck.
 "Clear Lake-Greatest Wetland in the World"

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

An Egg-citing Experiment

 I went over to Desert Boy's school the other day and we talked about how birds make different kinds of nests. The kids made their own nests, which varied from a hole in the ground to some grass on branches, to a big platform of sticks. Then we had time to talk about what goes in the nests--the eggs. I had the kids inspect the shape of the egg, and we talked about how arches are one of the strongest shapes and how an egg incorporates arches. To make sure they remembered that eggs are strong, I then had them stand on a fresh eggs. They didn't want to do it at first, but they were all quite excited once they saw it worked.

 Every kid in the class stood on the eggs, and none of them broke, much to their amazement.

We had one more science experiment: try to crack a raw egg by squeezing it as hard as you can with one had.
 We actually did have one egg break open (good thing we were outside!). I think it probably had tiny cracks in it before we started. Or maybe Ava really is the strongest one in the school!

So if you have extra eggs lying around, give it a try! There's a tiny bit of fear as you wonder if you will have a big mess to clean up, but most likely you won't.

Happy Earth Day!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Random Signs of Spring

 I am so loving this spring. Every day brings new colors, sounds, and smells (okay, my allergies are awful, but I still love spring!). The tulips are blooming, and I find them such a happy flower.

 Our chicks are growing rapidly. I'm fascinated watching the little comb on the forehead emerge and the tail perk up. The chicks regularly try out their wings and are getting stronger.

 This mourning cloak stayed still long enough for me to get a decent photo. I've seen orange, yellow, and white butterflies. One of my goals this summer is to learn my butterflies a lot better, and since the BioBlitz at Great Basin National Park this summer is going to focus on Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), I have a good chance of accomplishing it.

Desert Boy really, really wanted to run through the sprinkler but thought it might be on the chilly side. So he put on his wetsuit (a yard sale find last year), and ran happily in the water.

Hope you're having a happy spring!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

More Backyard Birds

 We've been continuing on our Backyard Bird Challenge, and things are starting to pick up as the trees leaf out, the weather warms, flowers bloom, and insects emerge. Turkey vultures have made their usual spring appearance. In the photo above, one is drying its wings before taking to the thermals later in the day. We get a big group in our trees every spring and fall.

I heard the tap-tap-tap of a woodpecker and tracked down this Northern Flicker. We have one that regularly visits the yard. Numerous holes in the house also testify to the fact of their frequent presence. My husband still laments that I threw out all the metal coffee lids when we moved in, as his grandmother had saved those to patch the woodpecker holes.

Although I don't like the Eurasian collared doves because they're non-native, they live in our yard, so I've gotten to know them better. I hardly every see mourning doves anymore because the collared doves have taken over some of their territory.

Another non-native inhabitant is the European Starling. It's feathers shimmer in the sunlight.

Fortunately we do have lots of non-native birds swing by. This American Kestrel is a beauty. Often we have a pair hang out through the summer, and I hope we do again this year.

Outside the yard but nearby we've seen red-winged blackbirds, curlews, and barn swallows. We hope we'll be able to add them to our list soon.

We're also trying to encourage birds to stay in our yard, by putting up two birdhouses that kids made. Desert Boy especially liked that he got to chose a spot, which was up in a tree.

We'll see if the birds agree with his choice!
I hope you've been seeing some fun birds lately. I have been paying a lot more attention this year, and it makes it easy to spot something that is out of the normal.

Happy birding!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Sand Springs, near Kanab, Utah

 On our way to and from the South Fork Indian Canyon Pictographs, near Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, we passed a huge hill of sand. This was the northeast side of the sand dunes, a place called Sand Springs. No one was there, and on our way back from the pictographs, we stopped to play in the sand. Desert Boy was the first to leave some tracks up the big hill.

 Old tracks had been blown over. It was quite a steep hill, steep enough that it was easier to go up on all fours than walking.

But once you got to the top, the fun began: running and jumping down the dune.

Desert Boy went really fast, leaping, and bounding.

I guess he went a little too fast!
 Fortunately he was fine and repeated his running down the dunes many more times (with just one more face plant).

To access Sand Springs, you turn off the Hancock Road, which connects US89 near Kanab, Utah to Coral Pink Sand Dunes, and take a 4WD road a couple of miles. The turnoff is not marked, but does have a stop sign. The 4WD road has one part that is really deep sand, right below the big play area. It's best to go fast through here.

The spring of Sand Springs still runs. It's to the north of the big sand hill where the corral is located. The spring has been improved so water runs into a trough all the time.

The kids continued to climb and run while I looked at the spring. At the beginning the hill had no fresh tracks. At the end, it was covered with tracks. I'd say we got our exercise!

The joys of a sand dune! We managed to take home just a little sand with us.
If you have the right vehicle to get to this spot, I highly recommend it. We were lucky not to have anyone else there during the hour we were there, and it was so much fun to have a big dune all to ourselves. Camping is available in the same area, but it's primitive so you need to bring everything.
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